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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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Sandra Benitez Book

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 15, 2022

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15, recognizing the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the history and culture of the United States.
Today we are highlighting novelist Sandra Benitez, who won the American Book Award in 1998 for her book "Bitter Grounds." 
Learn more about her here:

Pat Bellanger

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 14, 2022

Pat Bellanger was an Ojibwe activist and cofounder of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who spent over fifty years fighting for Indigenous rights on a national and local level.
Learn more about her in this new MNopedia article!

Remembering Petronella Janneke Ytsma

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 13, 2022

Petronella Janneke Ytsma was an emigrant from Netherlands after the devastation of World War II. She moved to Minneapolis to pursue photography, eventually traveling to Vietnam to document the cross-generational effects of Agent Orange. 
Sadly, Ytsma recently passed away. Learn more about her work and experiences through her oral history, which can be found here:

1581 Ortelius Map

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 12, 2022

This map is titled "Americae sive novi orbis, nova descriptio" which means "America or the New World, a new description."
It is hand-colored and shows the western hemisphere as it was known in 1581. Notice there are no Great Lakes? 
It was created by renown cartography Ortelius and printed in Antwerp. Likely it was originally part of an atlas.

Native American Artist in Residence - Applications Now Open!

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 9, 2022

Here is a birchbark biting with a central floral design surrounded by dragonflies and framed by birchbark cutouts. 
This piece was made by Denise Lajimodiere, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, during her time as a Native American Artist-in-Residence in 2015-16.

Applications for this round of residences is open now! Learn more about the NAAIR program here!

River Scene

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 8, 2022

This is an undated Bob Brown pencil sketch. It shows work happening on the  Mississippi River, with construction barges and a bridge in the background. 

Tailcoat and vest: why?

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 7, 2022

Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) receives many donation offers and only can select a few of those items to bring into the collection. In my work as an intern, I work with a range of these new acquisitions, some of which have immediately compelling stories. This tailcoat and vest is not immediately interesting; it is a fairly standard piece of formal menswear. So the question is: why this one? 

The main element that sets this piece apart is the vest’s label. It reads “CUSTOM DEPARTMENT. / THE PLYMOUTH, / MINNEAPOLIS./ MR. H.L. CARPENTER / DATE FEB 11TH 09.” This helpfully gives us the store the items were purchased at, the original wearer, and a date of creation. Most garments don’t have this level of provenance literally attached to them, which brings this piece from a standard jacket to one that is useful in building a Minnesota story. 

This label opens up what we can discover about the jacket. It is a piece of retail history, providing an example of what could be purchased at the Plymouth Clothing Company, which opens up greater discussions of shopping and consuming clothes in turn of the century Minneapolis. Having a named wearer provides greater specificity on who would be wearing and buying this type of garment and why. Despite its somewhat standard apparence, this jacket raises questions and can lead to a greater understanding of the history of dress in Minneapolis. 

While important information is preserved by adding an object like this to a museum collection, a certain amount of knowledge about this piece is inaccessible once it changes from a worn garment to a museum object. It will no longer be known through the type of movement and physical interactions involved in wearing. As a museum object, it must be handled with a certain amount of care and most information will be obtained visually. With textiles this careful handling  extends its life, but understanding these losses adds to a fuller understanding of what the thing is. Thinking about these complexities with new acquisitions allows for a better understanding of museums' roles and limitations.

Emily Anderson, 3D Intern

Happy Back to School!

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 6, 2022

Welcome back to school students, parents, teachers, and the wider community!
Today we share this adorable photo of Rolland Sande on his first day of school with his brother Glenn. It was taken in Thief River Falls, 1928.
Hope everyone has a good year!

Happy Labor Day!

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 5, 2022

Did you know that Labor Day became a legal holiday in 1894?
This photo shows United Garment Workers Union members in a horse drawn carriage on Labor Day in St. Paul, 1905.
We hope everyone enjoys the day!

Grandstand, 1895

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 2, 2022

This photograph shows the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair in 1895.
It is part of the Minnesota State Fair photograph collection, II.33.